by Aprille Hanson
Director: Thomas Kail
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. & Phillipa Soo
Runtime: 2 hours & 40 minutes
On July 3, America got a reprieve from the stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. His iconic musical “Hamilton,” featuring the original theatrical cast from a 2016 performance premiered on Disney+. It has been five years since the play originally premiered at the Public Theater, Off-Broadway.
It’s safe to say most in the United States hadn’t seen “Hamilton,” specifically featuring the original cast and if the world were normal, it’s likely it would have premiered in movie theaters across the country.
But instead, we all were swept up in the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton from the comfort of our living rooms and the timing actually couldn’t have been better.
I’m happy to say I didn’t listen to most of the “Hamilton” soundtrack before watching the recorded stage performance. Of course I know the main hits by heart -- “Alexander Hamilton,” “My Shot,” “The Schuyler Sisters” -- but I was grateful to see this masterpiece play out with the actors, rather than just playing out the scenes in my own mind. Because of this, I did not realize the play had very little spoken dialogue, with the 2 hour, 40 minute run completely in song. It’s what makes this musical even more awe-inspiring, told entirely through hip hop and pop style songs with people of color playing most of the historic characters.
The musical details Hamilton's life in two acts, along with how various historical characters influenced his life such as Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), John Laurens (Anthony Ramos), Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan) and most prominently Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) who will eventually cause his death. Hamilton quickly builds a name for himself through his passion for a revolution, becoming the right hand man for George Washington (Chris Jackson) and the eventual United States fights for independence from Britain. Amid all this, we see Hamilton’s personal life unfold when he meets the Schuyler sisters, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Phillipa Soo) and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and his quick marriage to Eliza. In the second act, America has gained its independence and now the work of building a new country begins and intertwined with Hamilton’s work leading the Treasury Department, writing the majority of The Federalist Papers and serving in the first presidential cabinet, viewers see the heartbreak from both the death of his son from a duel and the strain an affair put on his marriage and public image.
Miranda did what may seem impossible in the hands of someone else -- he brought history alive in a way that’s relatable and fun, but rooted in the spirit of how this country was founded. Yes, there’s a cabinet debate between Thomas Jefferson (also played by Diggs) and Hamilton, but it’s done in a rap-battle style. Yes, there’s a scene where Washington reveals his desire to step down as president, but with Jackson delivering a superb vocal performance that makes you feel the emotions of what that actually meant for the newly formed country. Yes, King George (Jonathan Groff) makes his predictions and speeches, but instead of a boring leader, he’s a total caricature and hilarious. The talents of Goldsberry, who blew viewers away on “Satisfied” and Soo, who broke everyone’s hearts on “Burn,” as leading ladies are pure magic. The themes of his own death haunting him, writing like he’s running out of time and never throwing away his shot is really the story of every person who had to fight to earn something important.
Miranda weaved a story that America needed right now. It’s hard to really celebrate America with its systemic racism, unhinged leadership and a hardened society. But what “Hamilton” provides is a hope and understanding of why this country was founded -- freedom for all people. It’s about an immigrant who helped build a country that still exists today. And this spirit of America came alive in “Hamilton” and it’s worth celebrating.